Declaring the month of August “Civics and Government Awareness Month,” Dr. Tommy Bice, Alabama State Superintendent of Education (ALSDE), called on all 45,000-plus public school teachers statewide to visit the Capitol next week to thank legislators for their support of Plan 2020, the Alabama State Department of Education’s strategic plan for improving public education.
During a news conference held July 29th, Bice attributed “unprecedented transformations” to the past couple of years’ work by the department, the Governor, state lawmakers, educators, administrators, and the State Board of Education. He connected the dots of the progress Alabama leaders have made in advancing public education with the planned outcomes of the state department’s strategic plan, while promoting its proposed multi-year budget to help Alabama public schools reach equitable and effective funding levels.
“We are not asking for more money for money’s sake,” said Bice to the media. “We are asking the legislature to continue its investments in specific areas of the ETF (Education Trust Fund) that – based on research and proven results – help Alabama students succeed in life after high school.”
The Alabama Legislature begins its special session on Monday (August 3rd) to address the chronically worsening General Fund budget crisis. The news conference served as a reminder to lawmakers “not to look at the ETF as an option to take money from” in order to try and fill the holes in the General Fund.
“Despite the successes of the past two years, there is no surplus (in the ETF),” Bice said, “not when local school systems are using their scarce dollars to make up for the losses that are the responsibility of the state.”
Pointing to a recent report released by the Business Education Alliance in 2014, Bice said that protecting and investing in the ETF to support Plan 2020 could result in a projected economic output of a $430 million boost to the overall state economy.
“We want to be a part of the solution – the General Fund didn’t get into this shape over-night, and it won’t be fixed over-night,” said Bice. “There is no quick fix. Investing in what works in education is a long-term, sustainable solution.”
Plan 2020 details a strategy to reach a 90% statewide graduation rate by the year 2020; strategies for learners, professionals, schools, and support systems. Within the comprehensive strategy, it maps out how to achieve that goal by investing in and expanding high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten programs, supporting the implementation of Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards (which are based on the Common Core State Standards), implementation of the full suite of aligned ACT assessments, expansion of the highly successful Advanced Placement program, and expansion of Career Tech programs which provide students with an avenue to earn industry credentials by the time they graduate.
“Let me say this again; Alabama leads the nation in percentage growth for Advanced Placement passing scores in English, math and science through our successful partnership with A+ College Ready,” Bice said. “The point is that we encourage continued investment in what we know works for students.”
When asked about the proposal by some legislators to move the growth tax income from the ETF to the General Fund, Bice said he is open to discussion to insure if that is moved, that the non-ETF line items are moved with it and another source of revenue replaces it.
By supporting the state department’s multi-year plan to bring funding levels to where they need to be, Bice said the legislature could finally bring equity to school systems across the state.
During August, Bice also invited teachers to bring their students during the special session so they could witness state government in action.